Meet the UYP18 Professors

 

Stephanie Belveg
Classes:
Self-Awareness, Perspective and Boundaries: How to Promote a Safe and Inclusive Environment; Trauma-Informed Approaches to Peer Support- Empowerment, Voice, and Choice
Major: Peer Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Stephanie Belveg has been employed as an advocate within the Individual and Family Support Services at the New York State Justice Center since 2015.  Stephanie has over 11 years of experience working with people with disabilities.   As an advocate Stephanie provides guidance and information about the Justice Center’s reporting and investigative process to people who receive services and families, support during criminal cases and proceedings for people who are victims of abuse and neglect, and victim interview accompaniment.  Stephanie has a Master of Science in Forensic Mental Health from Sage Graduate School and a Bachelor of Science in law and society: Concentration in Criminal Justice from Sage College.

Crystal Collins
Classes:
Self-Awareness, Perspective and Boundaries: How to Promote a Safe and Inclusive Environment; Trauma-Informed Approaches to Peer Support- Empowerment, Voice, and Choice
Major: Peer Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Crystal Collins has been employed as an advocate at the New York State Justice Center since 2015. Crystal provides short term advocacy, technical assistance, information and referrals. Crystal is a NYS Certified Code Enforcement Official and provides technical assistance regarding building codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act concerning accessibility and accommodations. Crystal has 27 years of experience working with and on behalf of people with disabilities, 23 of those years she has worked with youth and adult employment services for people with disabilities. Crystal has a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Elmira College.

Carly Congilosi, Western Regional Youth Partner, YOUTH POWER!
Class: Get the Answers You Need!
Elective
Bio: Coming soon!

Allison Davenport
Classes: Addressing Stigma and Discrimination in the Workforce; Effective Communication
Major: Peer Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Allison Davenport has been an educator for the past 18 years and began her career as a secondary education English teacher after graduating from SUNY Geneseo in 1999 Following her experience in public education, Allison expanded her expertise and turned to adult learning in 2007 as a statewide trainer and curriculum developer for Home and Community Based Waivers and Trauma Informed Car topics in New York State. Additionally, Allison has been a Program Coordinator and Curriculum Developer for Public Health professional seeing professional development and continuing education opportunities through in-person, webinar, and self-paced platforms. Allison joined the New York State Wraparound Training and Implementation Institute in April 2017.

Amanda Davidson, Youth Engagement Specialist, YOUTH POWER!
Class: Systems Advocacy 101
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Amanda is a driven, confident young individual who plans on inspiring everyone around her to make the world a better place for youth step by step. Her experience with mental health services and child welfare services has made it so she can recognize the ability for change. She wants to empower youth of all ages to also recognize their ability to seek change and actively make their voices heard in society. As someone who loves to take care of animals, be a supporter for everyone she comes in contact with and is still growing as a young adult, she desires the world to really hear the stories and experiences of young people all across the state. Talking in front of the NYS Board of Regents and the Rensselaer County Legislature, she is making her story known by speaking up and speaking out! She hopes to inspire young people to advocate for themselves and for others around them.

Abaigael Duke, Advocacy Specialist, Office of Mental Health – NYC Field Office
Class: Peer Staff as Role Models
Major: Peer Advocacy
Bio: Abaigeal Duke is currently employed as the Advocacy Specialist for the New York City Field Office, Office of Mental Health.  Abaigeal’s role in the field office is primarily focused on empowering the young people served in OMH programs in NYC and supporting current and future youth advocates throughout the city.  Before this position, Abaigeal worked as a peer in clinic and community settings for both state and nonprofit agencies.   She is a certified peer specialist and a strong advocate for the role of lived experience within the mental health system.

Amanda Smith
Classes:
Self-Awareness, Perspective and Boundaries: How to Promote a Safe and Inclusive Environment; Trauma-Informed Approaches to Peer Support- Empowerment, Voice, and Choice
Major: Peer Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Amanda began her career with the Justice Center in 2013 as a Vulnerable Persons Protection Specialist in the Call Center where she classified reports of abuse and neglect, and has been employed as a Quality of Care Facility Review Specialist with the Justice Center since 2014.  Amanda has vast experience working with people that have dual diagnoses of developmental disabilities and mental illness.  Prior to working at the Justice Center, Amanda worked as a Mental Health Evaluator in the Emergency Room setting and conducted groups in the inpatient setting related to healthy coping skills and understanding triggers.  Amanda also has eight years of experience providing direct support and management to people with dual diagnoses in the residential setting.  Amanda has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from the College of Saint Rose and has completed Master’s Degree level coursework in Forensic Psychology.

Julie Farrar
Class: Civic Participation
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Coming soon!

Sarah Felman
Class:
Values Exchange
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Upon graduating from Mount Holyoke College cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, Sarah Felman began working at the Empowerment Exchange, a program of the Mental Health Empowerment Project, as a peer support mentor. She facilitates the Alternatives to Suicide and Hearing Voices peer-to-peer support groups, as well as the monthly Capital Region Peer Collaborative. Sarah believes that meeting extreme emotional states with curiosity, as opposed to fear, establishes greater healing from trauma. When Sarah is not doing peer support, she is typically on the back of a horse as an avid equestrian.

Alex Frisina, Long Island Regional Youth Partner, YOUTH POWER!
Class:
 Harnessing Hip-Hop
Elective
Bio: Alexander Frisina is a hardworking and dedicated young professional that was labeled with Special Education needs at an early age. Adopted at a young age by a family located in Eastern Long Island, Alex is the youngest of four siblings and the only adopted member of his family. Facing issues of self-identity Alex struggled with depression. Throughout the decision-making process of his treatment, he felt voiceless and was made to believe he had no choices. This feeling pushed Alex to seek alternative methods of expression; which lead him down the road of creative writing. Alex used his writing to not only express himself but also escape from the feeling of being powerless and unheard. Since graduating from King’s College located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Alex has been seeking a position that uses his creative background to help make a difference. Learning about the work YOUTH POWER! has done and the goals they are working towards Alex realized his past experience could be used to help others dealing with similar situations. Pulling from past experiences and gaining knowledge every day Alex hopes to push for change and spread the work of YOUTH POWER!

Mica Gonzalez, Central Regional Youth Partner, YOUTH POWER!
Classes: Brave Spaces: Redefining Difficult Conversations; Get the Answers You Need!; Intersecting Identities of LGBTQ+ Communities; Technology as a Tool for Advocacy and Independence
Major: Peer Advocacy; Electives; Systems Advocacy
Bio: Mica comes to YOUTH POWER! with much experience working with youth and young adults. She brings knowledge and experience of working with diverse populations, youth-guided care, and youth-guided implementation.  Her passion lies in working with youth to find their voice. As a youth, she felt largely silenced and had a difficult time navigating through cross systems. Growing up in a multicultural household, struggling to maintain her mental health was challenging. At a young age she was given a few different labels and through the years those only continued to change. In addition to those struggles, Mica was diagnosed with epilepsy in the 7th grade. Trying to maintain her seizure disorder and mental health posed many challenges. Shortly after this, she came out to her family and friends. The lack of representation and acceptance only further perpetuated her mental health and resulted in many psychiatric hospitalizations. With these struggles in mind, Mica attended an alternative school from grades 10th to 12th where she graduated high school. She graduated Onondaga Community College in 2013 with her Associates in Human Services with a specialization in Social Work. Today, she attends Syracuse University where she is working to get her Bachelors in Social Work. Mica plans on continuing her education to get her Master’s degree in Social Work. When she is not working hard to amplify youth voices, she is enjoying nature, traveling, crafting and playing with her three pugs!

Karla Gutierrez
Class: Values Exchange
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Karla Gutierrez is a member of the mental health and disability community. Growing up with craniofacial differences planted the seed for activism and advocacy, forming her into the passionate advocate she is today. Building upon her experiences with the mental health system as an adolescent and young adult, Karla Gutierrez began her involvement in peer advocacy and support as a college student in 2007. Karla had an opportunity to intern at several local agencies that were involved in peer support, and the independent living movement. These experiences strengthened her interest in both peer and systems advocacy. Karla has an A.S. in Human Services and a B.A. in Psychology, with a minor in Native American Studies. Karla is currently in the process of becoming a Certified Peer Specialist in New York. Karla has worked as Adult Home Peer Specialist for the Mental Health Empowerment Project since December of 2016. In her role, Karla connects with individuals from various cultural, social, and economic backgrounds supporting them on their personal recovery journey and empowers them to reconnect with the local community.

Melanie Hecker
Class:
 Creating Inclusive Spaces and Communities
Major:
Peer Advocacy
Bio: 
Melanie Hecker is a young person with experience in the mental health, developmental disability, and special education systems. The former Systems Advocate of YOUTH POWER!, Melanie has a passion for disability, government, advocacy and inclusion. Currently she is studying full-time at the University at Albany with a Major in Public Policy and a concentration in Human Services. Melanie’s current advocacy projects include the Disability Rights New York PADD Advisory Council, The Post-Secondary Advisory Council for Students with Disabilities to the Board of Regents, The New York State Independent Living Council Youth Subcommittee, and Delta Alpha Pi Disability Honor Society. Melanie is the co-chair of the Congregation Ohav Shalom Inclusion Committee and a lifelong resident of New York’s Capitol District.

Zack Kilmer, NYISA Coordinator, YOUTH POWER!
Classes: Public Speaking; Strategic Sharing
Major: Systems Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Zack Kilmer is an autistic LGBTQ+ young adult who has had a passion for activism and civics since he was a child. Raised by a single mother and brought up in special education programs, Zack knows the struggles young people face and wants to change the system to better suit their needs. He is excited and honored to be working with YOUTH POWER! to achieve that goal. Before joining YP!, Zack graduated from SUNY Brockport with a bachelor’s degree in English & Political Science. Shortly after, he worked on the New York 19th District 2016 Congressional Election in support of Zephyr Teachout. He then used the skills learned in that race to run his own campaign for Town Council in his hometown of East Greenbush.

Bianca Logan, ACHIEVE- Youth Peer Services and Training Manager, YOUTH POWER!
Class: Peer Advocacy 101
Major: Peer Advocacy
Bio: Bianca is a passionate young professional who has personal experience in the mental health and special education systems. She has been working professionally in the youth movement for 5 years with 7 years volunteer experience prior. Bianca is passionate about all things youth and determined to make sure youth voice is represented at all levels in her community and beyond. She comes with experience working directly with young people and also supporting young professionals in her community. She serves as a member of the Youth Peer Services Advisory Council working towards the development of a credentialing process, training, and implementation for Youth Peer Advocates in New York State. Bianca has experience serving on both the Families Together in NYS and YOUTHPOWER! board of directors. Bianca’s experience with YOUTHPOWER! has shown her the power and strength of the peer movement. She respects the movement, its history, and its future. Keeping the integrity of the peer movement is important to Bianca as Youth Peer Services are formalized in NYS. Bianca is excited to be working with the ACHIEVE project to implement Youth Peer Advocates into Wraparound in Erie, Rensselaer and Westchester counties over the next several years. She believes this will enhance the wraparound experience for young people. Bianca wholeheartedly believes that Youth are our future and they deserve to feel empowered to play a role in shaping the next generation, inclusive of Peer professionals. Most of all she encourages young people to have HOPE that the future can be a better place!

Beth Mangiaracina
Class: Values Exchange
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Beth Mangiaracina has been involved in mental health services for decades and is a person journeying on her path of healing.  She began in the Recovery Movement in 2010 as a Peer Support Worker at a traditional mental health provider agency in Massachusetts. Beth then became certified by the State of Massachusetts as a Peer Specialist and began working as a Peer Support Supervisor. It was after several years of connecting to others and developing her sense of curiosity about people and their own recovery tools that Beth discovered her desire to learn, educate, and advocate with people striving to heal from trauma. In July of 2014 she joined the training team at the Mental Health Empowerment Project (MHEP) in Albany and became certified as a Peer Specialist through the State of New York. Peer support values, individual choice, mutuality, compassion, and power of shared lived experience on the path to healing, values which Beth strives to uphold in her life and in her work.

Elana Marton, Deputy Director & Counsel, NYS Council on Children and Families
Class:Youth Rights
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Elana Marton serves as the Deputy Director and Counsel of the New York State Council on Children and Families, which helps to coordinate the state’s health, education and human service systems for children and their families. At the Council, Elana helps develop policies impacting youth with cross-system needs and responds to questions regarding how children and youth can access needed services. Previously, Elana served as Associate Counsel to the Speaker of the New York State Assembly where she drafted and negotiated legislation on mental hygiene issues, including the “Children’s Mental Health Act of 2006” which has been the building block for interagency collaborations aimed at improving the emotional and social well-being of New York’s children and families. Before working in New York, Elana worked on child welfare and other policies for the Nevada State Legislature and on local government issues at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. She earned her law degree by attending the night program at the University of Connecticut School of Law and a B.A. from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Cadi Morse
Class: Team Building
Elective
Bio: Coming soon!

Joseph Munisteri
Class: Creating Inclusive Spaces and Communities
Major: Peer Advocacy
Bio: Joseph Munisteri is a founding board member of YOUTH POWER! He is also cosplayer who brings awareness to various topics via activism. He is extremely active in his community in an attempt to make everyone’s lives more awesome. He hopes to one day write a comic called the Access Avengers. He also owns a Giant Papier Mache Hulk and always carries a sketchbook with him often asking others to draw a key to inspire others (these keys and a podcast about them can be found on his website www.unlockcreativity.org) and has presented at New York Comic Con and Syracuse University.

Jenn O’Connor
Activity: Advocacy Made Easy: What, Why, How
Major: Systems Advocacy
Bio: Jenn O’Connor is Director of Policy and Advocacy for Prevent Child Abuse New York (PCANY). She previously served as NYS Director of Council for a Strong America, senior associate for the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, senior analyst for the National Governors Association, and director of legislative affairs and education for the National Conference of Insurance Legislators. In addition to a background in mental health, maternal and child health, health insurance, and education policy, she has several years of campaign and legislative experience. Jenn is immediate past co-chair of Winning Beginning New York, the State’s early learning coalition, as well as public policy chair for the NYS Association for the Education of Young Children and policy co-chair for the NYS Network for Youth Success. She was previously vice president of the board of PCANY. Jenn has a fourteen-year-old daughter and a six-year-old mini-Labradoodle. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines such as Yellow Chair Review and Unbroken Journal; her essay on foster care was first published by Motherwell Magazine and was recently nominated as a #BlogHer17 Voices of the Year Honoree.

Jessica L. Pidgeon, Ph.D., Long-term Planner and Federal Liaison, New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, Adjunct Professor, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY
Classes:
Ingredients for a Successful Movement: Learning from the Civil Rights Movement; Political Involvement: Voting Isn’t Your Only Option!
Major: Systems Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Jessica L. Pidgeon has been working for the NY State DDPC since 2013. She started as a graduate assistant and was later selected to be a NYS Excelsior Fellow at the NY DD Council in 2015. She currently serves as the agencies lead federal liaison and long-term planner. Jessica is a graduate of Siena College (B.A), the University of California, Riverside (M.A.), and Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY (Ph.D.), where she received the University at Albany’s Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Award in recognition of the important contribution that her research on the political participation of individuals with disabilities, family members, and support staff in American elections made to the field of political science. She has continued her relationship with Rockefeller College as an Adjunct Professor for the Department of Political Science, where she teaches courses on American politics and public policy.

Stefanie Pivar
Classes:
 Addressing Stigma and Discrimination in the Workforce; Effective Communication
Major: Peer Advocacy; Elective
Bio: While completing her Master’s Degree at The New School, Stefanie worked in New York City as a Camp Unit Director, creating exciting and educational activities for campers and staff. As coordinator of a children’s television show, Stefanie designed and executed community events and festivals while creating and defending show curriculum at the Department of Education. As a life-long advocate for people with disabilities, Stefanie began her career in working with individuals as a Marketing Representative in 2010. In 2013 Stafanie began overseeing wavier and grant-funded programs at an upstate New York agency serving people with disabilities. As Staff Development Coordinator, Stefanie oversaw the training delivery of state mandated core competencies for direct support professionals and redesigned supervisory and leadership development training’s. Stefanie joined the New York State Wraparound Training and Implementation Institute in the Fall of 2017.

Courtney Ramirez, Executive Director, NYS Administrative Children’s Services/Office of Family Engagement and Youth Advocacy
Class: Reaching the “Hard to Reach”
Elective
Bio: Courtney Ramirez is the Executive Director of the Office of Family Engagement & Youth Advocacy at NYC ACS, where she is responsible for ensuring the constituent voice, particularly youth, is represented in all of the agency’s programs, services, and guiding policies. A long-time advocate and adult ally, Courtney brings a unique passion and energy to her work. Over the years, she has worked at nearly every level of human services including front-line direct care staff, crisis responder, non-profit executive and state-wide government coordinator.  She has developed curricula on various topics and facilitated trainings for community, school and facility youth, staff, and families. She has secured funding for various prevention programs, juvenile justice-related initiatives, and services for both victims and offenders.  She developed youth councils, advisory boards and peer education workshops in jurisdictions across NYS; and has presented workshops at countless national conferences. Whether working to reduce racial disparities, assist young people in transitioning home from incarceration, improve access to healthcare, or link young people to education and employment activities, she has always been committed to identifying the strengths, talents, and assets of young people; and providing them positive opportunities to share their expertise with key community and government leaders.

BrendaCleo Smith, Youth Peer Advocate, Mental Health Association of NYC
Class: Woosah 101 for Youth Peer Advocates
Major: Peer Advocacy
Bio: BrendaCleo Smith is currently the Youth Programs Coordinator at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-NYC Metro). She was a Peer Youth Advocate for over a year at the Mental Health Association-Bronx Adolescent Skills Center. Despite her age, she has spent her time advocating for other youth who have yet to find their voice. She is dedicated to equipping other youth with the skills needed to effectively advocate for themselves. It is BrendaCleo’s hopes of seeing other youth grow from their circumstances instead of falling through the cracks.

Kari Sovas
Classes: Self-Awareness, Perspective and Boundaries: How to Promote a Safe and Inclusive Environment; Trauma-Informed Approaches to Peer Support- Empowerment, Voice, and Choice
Major: Peer Advocacy; Elective
Bio: Kari Sovas has been employed as a Supervising Quality of Care Facility Review Specialist at the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs since 2013.  Kari has over seventeen years of experience working with people with developmental disabilities.  Her prior work experience includes conducting investigations and assessing provider systems at the New York State Commission on Quality of Care, and evaluating at-risk youth and assisting families with obtaining Early Intervention services at the SUNY Research Foundation.  Kari also has five years of experience as a Behavior Specialist for adults and children with developmental disabilities, and four years of direct care experience.  Kari has a Master’s Degree in Educational Psychology from the College of Saint Rose, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Childhood Education from the State University of New York at Oswego.

Brianna Valesey, Director, YOUTH POWER!
Class: Suicide Prevention
Elective
Bio: Brianna is a hardworking young professional with first-hand experience developing self-advocacy skills as a young person with a disability and experience in the mental health system. Dedicated to amplifying youth voice across the state, she works hard to spread messages of hope and resiliency to those around her. She began her time with YOUTH POWER! serving as a mentor for the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program and after graduating in 2014 from Sage College of Albany, she began working as YOUTH POWER!’s Youth Engagement Consultant. During this time she led the E3: Engage, Educate, Employ initiative in partnership with the NYS Department of Labor. As this initiative came to a close, she then began her work with the NYS Success initiative, ensuring our system of care is youth-guided. As her role in YOUTH POWER! grew and developed, she then went on to serve as the Social Marketing and Events Coordinator, working closely with YP! members, partners, and other stakeholders. Leveraging her years of experience growing through different roles in the youth peer profession and gaining critical expertise in mentoring, youth peer advocacy, program/event coordination, social marketing, and providing trainings and technical assistance, she is excited to serve as the Director of YOUTH POWER! in this new era of leadership.

Denzel ‘DJ’ Wilkerson, NYC Regional Youth Partner, YOUTH POWER!
Classes: Check Your Privilege!; Get the Answers You Need!
Electives
Bio: Coming soon!

Brennan Williams, Hudson River Regional Youth Partner, YOUTH POWER!
Class: Creating Inclusive Spaces and Communities
Major: Peer Advocacy
Bio: Brennan Williams is a passionate activist and member of the mental health, disability, and young adult communities. His personal experiences and work throughout the past 11 years have given him a unique glimpse into some of the many challenges of living as someone who is “labeled.” Brennan’s experiences within these systems have heavily intersected with being transgender. Brennan has mentored homeless and at-risk youth, participated in college disability activist groups, worked to help pass human rights laws for the transgender community, and organized panels and provided training to various community providers. He has also worked with a Youth Court program to educate and encourage youth and young adults to know their rights and how to advocate for them. Brennan brings with him several years of professional work with the disability community, including youth and young adult specific programs. Brennan’s experiences and work have been the driving forces behind his desire to educate, advocate, organize, and push for our communities to value input from all people.

Azaria Wittekind, Youth Peer Services Training and Credentialing Coordinator, YOUTH POWER!
Classes: Get the Answers You Need!; Peer Advocacy 101
Major: Elective; Peer Advocacy
Bio: Azaria has a history of working with and for youth and young adults. This stems from the care and support she received while growing up in the foster care system. Azaria was in and out of foster care from the age of 13. Despite her struggles with mental health, Azaria has personally experienced the power of love, support, and care from others. These individuals have helped her find her voice, drive, and have supported her personal successes. Azaria earned her Bachelors in Social Work from SUNY Brockport in 2013 after aging out of foster care at 21. Prior to her involvement with YP!, she worked directly with youth to support them in finding their voice at home, in school, and in life as a Youth Mentor/Youth Peer Advocate, Youth Ambassador, and in residential care as a Youth Care Professional. While working for YP! Azaria has supported the growth and development of the Youth Peer Advocate position. She is determined to make the YPA position a reality across NYS with a mission to ensure that young people are being heard and getting the support they need to live self-directed lives.

Professor: TBA
Activity:
Paint and Sip
Bio: Coming Soon!

Patricia Zuber-Wilson, Licensed Zumba Instructor
Class: Zumba
Elective
Bio: Pat has been a licensed Zumba instructor for almost two years.  She leads Zumba classes at the Troy Branch of the Capital District YMCA and other locations in the Capital Region.  In addition, she has participated in numerous Zumbathon Charity events throughout the community.